Saturday, June 11, 2016

What Happened To My America?

When I was a kid, I rarely paid attention to the news unless something monumental was taking place. With this being said, there are a few situations over the years that I can vividly remember. I recall watching a live video feed of the Challenger exploding as I sat in a fourth grade classroom in 1986. I remember when Bill Clinton was accused of a scandal in 1998. I will never forget the day I pulled into work and my boss looked at me and said, “Did you hear about the bombings?” I went inside only to find my fellow employees watching the TV in shock as the Twin Towers fell in New York City.

Our country has always had tragedies and problems, but as I watch the news these days, I wonder if things have gotten worse. Who could have predicted that our flag would become a symbol of disgrace and discrimination in our own nation? Who would have thought that a government once founded on religious freedom would force churches and private schools to violate their beliefs and conscience? Who would have imagined that our own president would publicly mock Christianity?

In this election season, the search for the right leader has become a heated and central issue. Certainly a strong and morally centered president could reroute a nation headed for derailment? The problem isn’t the American people, right? We just haven’t had a leader who “knows what Americans want.” So goes the political ads and debate rhetoric. But maybe the issues in our nation are more deeply rooted? Maybe the solution won’t come from having the ideal leader in Washington?

As a Whale Through a Net
I am convinced that most of our issues in America stem from a cultural shift away from God, and no one leader can change a swelling army of human hearts set against their Creator. Founding father John Adams wrote, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” I am amazed how our leaders are now overriding systems that used to keep our freedoms intact. The Constitution, which used to be our nation’s key road map, has become a suggestive visitor’s guide. Our government and our courts use the Bible as a symbol of truth, but ignore truth contained within. The Home of the Brave and Free is filled with cowards who refuse to stand for the truth, and tyrants who honor power above freedom.

Like many Christians, I am bothered by the current cultural climate. I am upset at the injustice I see in our world and in our government. I am angered by the immorality that is redefining the very fabric of our society. I am worried about our kids, and I wonder what kind of moral storm they will face growing up. I pray that the Holy Spirit will be their lighthouse in a world following the all-consuming compass of self.

Nevertheless, I am reminded that this is not our home. I often wrestle with a desire to make this world a better place. I keep hoping that a garden will miraculously appear in a weed patch and frankly, I’ve wasted a lot of energy trying to pick weeds out of a plot of land filled with rocks. I’ve noticed that I’m not alone. I’ve seen some Christians who seem to have one goal in life of letting everyone on Facebook and beyond know that “this world is a bad place.” I wonder sometimes if we are barking up the wrong tree.

Love and the Truth
America may have changed since I was a kid. What used to be done in secret is celebrated on prime-time television and in the pulpits of some churches. It’s not what some of us are used to. We want the old America back. We want the America where all the sinners kept their sins quiet. We want to live in the allusion that we are in the majority.

As uncomfortable as it may be, I wonder if God is using our country’s moral erosion to separate the true Christian from the masquerading Christian, or as the Bible puts it, the “sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:32). Churches and private schools are being forced to stand with culture or stand against it. Christian businesses are being fined and even shut down for supporting traditional marriage. Students are being disciplined for believing in the existence of God. Terrorists are targeting people who follow Jesus, even here in America. Every individual, from the atheist to the pedophile, is welcomed to have a voice, except for the Christian, who is being pressured to keep quiet and even celebrate what violates the teachings of the Bible.

America may have been founded on Christian principles, but it is in no way a Christian nation. The United States is a melting pot of many ethnicities and religions and Biblical Christianity is becoming less prevalent and less accepted every day. We shouldn’t be surprised if things only get worse. Jesus didn’t say, “In this world, you will be comfortable and will get pats on the back for living a moral life.” And He certainly didn’t say, “Go into all the world and make everyone a conservative.

I do see some benefit in defending our personal and religious freedoms, especially as I am now a father of two young children. I want our kids to be safe and I want them to have the Christian education I had. I want them to be free to worship God and obey the Bible without being harassed or imprisoned. However, I wrestle with this dichotomy of being a light in a dark world and fighting for my freedoms as an American. If I stand publicly for Biblical truth, the world calls me “unloving” and “bigoted.” Regardless, there may be times when I need to refuse to bow down to the idols of this world just as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to worship the statue of the king (Daniel 3:12).

On the other hand, I may choose to remain silent in some situations for the purpose of showing the love and grace of Christ. Paul was everything to every person. He didn’t condone or participate in their sin, but he built relationships with people and met them where they were (I Corinthians 9: 19-23). Jesus spent much of his time hanging out with tax collectors and prostitutes. He broke cultural norms by speaking to the woman at the well and focused on her need for living water instead of on her sin (John 4:1-26). Jesus was at times angered by sin, but his anger was aimed towards the Pharisees and other religious people who claimed to know God, but lived in pride and idolatry (Matthew 23).

Living in the Real World
So often, Christians can hyper-focus on the sin of the world and miss the desperate needs of the world. Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) and that should be our goal as well. However, finding a balance between loving the world and holding to the truth can be a challenge. There will always be people who make Christianity look bad and the unbelieving world will do all it can to capitalize on such misrepresentations as to give Christianity a black eye.

The other day, I read an article about a Christian rock musician who recently announced that he was gay. Part of the headline divisively inquired, “Will The Christian World Embrace Him?” The implication seemed to be that Christians are unloving people and don’t accept others with different views or lifestyles. This is a tough stereotype to break because many people equate disagreeing with non-acceptance. This, however, is an absolutely ridiculous argument. I don’t always agree with my kids and I don’t appreciate everything they do, but I love my kids. I don’t agree with every member of my family, but I accept and love my family.

If we are to show Christ’s love to a lost world, we must begin at a grassroots level. It’s critical to build relationships with people we don’t agree with - in our neighborhoods, in our schools and in our churches. Did Jesus agree with the lifestyles of the “sinners” he hung out with? No, but He was somehow able to show them that He loved them. As Christians, we need to pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit. We need God’s help to know how to walk the line between love and truth.

A Few Good Men
Frankly, at the end of the day, politics are a waste of time and our country is no better than any other country on this planet. I’m not suggesting that we should let America waste away. I’m not implying that Christians shouldn’t be involved in politics or run for public office. However, we need to strike a balance between caring for our country and setting our eyes on a higher country. Ultimately, God’s Kingdom is what matters most. Our purpose as Christians isn’t to spend all of our energy pulling weeds in a rock patch. Jesus didn’t call us to reform America and push everyone into a single file line so that everyone looks like he or she is walking the straight and narrow. First, it likely won’t happen and even if it did, God isn’t searching for good Americans. He’s looking for humble men and women who are honest about their own sinful condition and open to their need of a Savior.

This country is a needy place. People are hopeless and lost and are trying to fill the void in their lives. They are searching for peace. They are longing for love. True peace and perfect love won’t come through a new president or new policies. The only solution to our problems as a country and as individuals is a relationship with Jesus.

Forever Remembered
We have been called to be salt and light, but sometimes we need help knowing how to use the saltshaker and where to place the lamps. Will the world see a difference? Will they be drawn to us as crowds were drawn to Jesus? Will we have compassion on the world as Jesus did and see them as sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36)?

As I reflect on news stories of the past, there are some events that I will never forget. These moments made such a lasting impact that I still remember exactly where I was when I first heard the news. What if Christians embraced a dying world as Jesus did? What if we left an unforgettable positive legacy? What if we made such substantial marks in history and in relationships that people could only stop and say but one thing - “That was love.

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